Any decent political drama needs a few unexpected twists and turns and takes forever to come to an end, and the saga of the failed Prop 204 campaign to permanently raise the state’s sales tax is no different.
As reported by the Goldwater Institute in September, major support for the initiative came from the Arizona Students Association, which contributed $120,000 to the campaign and used an army of student interns to collect upwards of 20,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.
The contributions were not harmless, as the ASA is funded through a mandatory $2 per semester fee attached to the tuition bills of Arizona’s 130,000 public university students. Simply put, the First Amendment provides that people cannot be forced to pay for politics they don’t subscribe to.
Problems with the ASA are not limited to its political contributions. The organization’s non-student fulltime staff members on several occasions threatened dissenting student board members with lawsuits. Protest resignations of several board members from Arizona State University followed and finally the Arizona Board of Regents took notice.
This week, the Regents opted to suspend the collection of the ASA student fee, but to postpone a permanent decision on the issue until February. That decision added to the drama because the Regents’ posted meeting agenda called only for a discussion – and not taking action – on whether to eliminate the mandatory fee.
State open meeting laws require government agencies to give advanced and accurate information that reflects the purpose and possible outcomes of government meetings. The purpose is to give the public a heads-up on what is happening and to prevent decisions from being made in secret.
The Regents have said the vote was legal, but that they would re-vote on the matter at the Regents’ December meeting anyway.
In this case, the Regents’ decision to cast a new, properly-announced, vote is welcome. Tuition payments are due in January, and without a proper vote, Arizona students could be forced to contribute roughly $300,000 to the association.
Arizona Republic: Goldwater Institute targets student group
State of Arizona: Open Meeting Law 101